Some takeaways about the U.S. education from 2017

Ed Week recently published an article that highlighted 10 different education statistics from data reports that were released in 2017. The article provided a broad overview of different data that was collected relating to various aspects of education policies. My aim is to highlight three of the data points mentioned in the article and explain what the data tells us and why it may have led to some surprising conclusions.

us grades map

Above is the national overview of EdWeek’s rankings published in its most recent Quality Counts Report. The researchers calculated an overall grade for each state in the U.S. and the country as a whole. The grades were based on three criteria. The first was the “Chance for Success” Index which aimed to measure the influence of education throughout an individual’s lifetime. The second metric was a school finance analysis. States were graded on their education spending amounts and the method of distributing the funding throughout all the districts or regions in the state to ensure that it was done in an equitable way. The third criteria for the grading system was the K-12 Achievement index. This index evaluated the current academic achievement of students, any narrowing of achievement gaps and the change in achievement over time at the state level. It is important to understand that these three different components makeup the letter grades, because they cover a very broad range of education policies. A state that has an overall grade in the B range could simply devote more funding to education, but may not actually see improved academic performance from the students.

Obama schools chart

The report in Ed Week referenced some data that was collected from 19 schools throughout the U.S. that are named for Barack or Michelle Obama. The chart above shows that the student demographics in these schools are disproportionately made up for Black and Hispanic students and thus claim that these schools are more segregated. However, this claim may be misleading. While schools named after the Obamas may teach more minority students, many changed their name because they wanted the school to be named after someone that the student population could identify with and admire. For example, Barack Obama Elementary in Normandy, Missouri decided to change its name to reflect the high percentage of minority students enrolled. A sixth grade teacher from the school is quoted saying “’not only is this person a president, but this person looks like us. It represented what we could be or what the kids could grow up to do.” The president of the Normandy School Board further explains that the high percentage of minority students at the school was a conscious choice that the school made when they chose a neighborhood to build the school. He says “We didn’t build [the school] in the middle of the best neighborhood. . . [but] where the need is greatest.” When you look at the raw data about the number of minority students at schools named after the Obamas, you cannot deny that they serve a majority of Black and Hispanic students, but this could be the reason why they are named after them in the first place.

school choice graphs

Surprisingly, voting patterns from the 2016 Presidential Election do not appear to play a big role in how people feel about school choice. Kris Magruder, a Trump voter and director of the Northern Montana Cooperative, said that “In Montana, school choice is beyond ridiculous.” In an article from the Atlantic written in January 2017, Karen Eppley, an editor of Journal in Rural Research and Education shed light on these views explaining that schools in rural communities are seen as an “anchor in the community” and provide a plethora of services that go beyond educating students. Families in rural areas are often very involved in their local schools, so choosing to send their children to a different school is a more complicated decision than it may be in an urban or suburban community. Based on an NPR article that broke down voting patterns by area, 66% of rural residence voted for Trump. Many rural residences may have voted for Trump but do not necessarily agree with his ideas to promote school choice because they do not see it as a viable option in their communities.

CPE highlights similar findings in its soon-to-be-released report on rural education, which further highlights the challenges unique to rural communities, so watch this space.